Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog

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“How to Write the Great American Indian Novel” a Succinct Example of Cultural Reappropriation

How to Write the Great American Indian Novel


All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.
Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food.
The hero must be a half-breed, half white and half Indian, preferably
from a horse culture. He should often weep alone. That is mandatory.
If the hero is an Indian woman, she is beautiful. She must be slender
and in love with a white man. But if she loves an Indian man
then he must be a half-breed, preferably from a horse culture.
If the Indian woman loves a white man, then he has to be so white
that we can see the blue veins running through his skin like rivers.
When the Indian woman steps out of her dress, the white man gasps
at the endless beauty of her brown skin. She should be compared to nature:
brown hills, mountains, fertile valleys, dewy grass, wind, and clear water.
If she is compared to murky water, however, then she must have a secret.
Indians always have secrets, which are carefully and slowly revealed.
Yet Indian secrets can be disclosed suddenly, like a storm.
Indian men, of course, are storms. They should destroy the lives
of any white women who choose to love them. All white women love
Indian men. That is always the case. White women feign disgust
at the savage in blue jeans and T-shirt, but secretly lust after him.
White women dream about half-breed Indian men from horse cultures.
Indian men are horses, smelling wild and gamey. When the Indian man
unbuttons his pants, the white woman should think of topsoil.
There must be one murder, one suicide, one attempted rape.
Alcohol should be consumed. Cars must be driven at high speeds.
Indians must see visions. White people can have the same visions
if they are in love with Indians. If a white person loves an Indian
then the white person is Indian by proximity. White people must carry
an Indian deep inside themselves. Those interior Indians are half-breed
and obviously from horse cultures. If the interior Indian is male
then he must be a warrior, especially if he is inside a white man.
If the interior Indian is female, then she must be a healer, especially if she is inside
a white woman. Sometimes there are complications.
An Indian man can be hidden inside a white woman. An Indian woman
can be hidden inside a white man. In these rare instances,
everybody is a half-breed struggling to learn more about his or her horse culture.
There must be redemption, of course, and sins must be forgiven.
For this, we need children. A white child and an Indian child, gender
not important, should express deep affection in a childlike way.
In the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written,
all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts.

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Beauty of Community

In Daughters of the Dust there was something truly special about how close all the people where in the island, there were of course some things about the closeness that weren’t always so great, but it did bring some very significant and beautiful things to the people residing in the island. There was a strong sense of family, all the women stuck together and almost never seen by themselves. There was also the connection that the tight knit community had with everyone on the island, and no one was ever completely left to fend for themselves with no help from the others. The sense of interconnectedness and community is not only felt with the people that are living, but also from the ancestors and the rituals that the ancestors have passed on from generation to generation. The people who have died are still being constantly remembered by the traditions that the people in the island continue to uphold, and in a sense those who have passed are being taken care of when the elders come and take care of their graves. The community here is building their own history and sense of self without having the interference of the constant background from the people in the “North”. While in the island they do not see themselves as inferior because of their skin color because everyone looks the same, and also because they all belong to a community who is not defined by their differences but by their similarities. Although I will admit how there was some things I didn’t like very much about the sense of community created, such as the people that wanted to stay in the island judging others who they believed had strayed from the path that their ancestors had carved out for them by leaving the island.

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“Counter” Narratives

We have just barely just started and finished talking about this subject in class today, and yet I already feel extremely passionate about this. The fact that the point of view of the racially and socially oppressed people is seen as the “Counter” narrative is very frustrating because most of the time, if not all the time, their narratives are the ones that actually tell the truth of what went down. Their stories should not been called anything other than the truth and by adding the world “counter” to what they are trying to pass on is in many ways demeaning of what they went through, their struggles, and the reality of what they were forced into. I don’t like the way that many people are unaware of the reality of the counter narratives, and just take in the words from the privileged group as the truth. While talking about this in class it felt like a huge conspiracy that was inflicted upon the masses, and we were uncovering the dark side that the privileged group had so desperately tried to hide from us. I know that might be a bit too paranoid, but it just felt like so many things were being left unsaid because they did not fit in with the image that the people in charge (historically whites) wanted to show us. In relation to Daughters of the Dust I felt like the people that left the island were losing the benefit of being able to define/create themselves separate from the “whiteness”, and were going to be exposed to the Narrative of the white man.

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Daughters of the Dust and symbolism

I’ve always found it difficult to watch films and search for symbolism in each scene; it tires me out to think that everything – from camera angle to lighting to color to object placement – is intentional. But it’s very obvious in Daughters of the Dust that everything is intentional and the entire film is designed to provoke thought in the audience members. And that’s not to say that I understood everything because I definitely didn’t.  I think this is a film that I would have to watch multiple times to fully understand, and each time focus on one symbolic aspect, such as the Unborn Child and why she’s in specific scenes and the significance of showing her running so many times. Our discussion on Wednesday after the film was enlightening and made me think about things I could focus on if I watch the film again – the lone Native American man, the shots of bare feet running on the earth, the indigo dye.

Angeletta Gourdine’s focus on symbolism of the clothing in the film was intriguing to read. I love that clothes can carry so much significance. Viola’s “tight-fitted apparel betrays [her] restrained demeanor,” whereas the “lattice pattern on the front of [Yellow Mary’s] blouse… draws sensual attention to her bust line” and the rest of her outfit adds to her “freedom” and “forthright sexuality.”  It’s amazing how Gourdine is able to recognize so many characteristics of the women just by analyzing their costumes.


Feeling Obtrusive in Order to Promote Self-Awareness

Before the Daughters of the Dust started, Dr. Hoffpauir warned us that the film would most likely make us feel like we were intruding on private conversations/moments of the characters. I soon realized that one of the ways the film accomplishes this feeling of intrusion is when Julie Dash creates scenes where an object of some sort is in between the viewer/camera and the character/s being viewed. For instance, in the first scene that Yellow Mary is in, Mary’s face is covered with a veil (blocking her face from view) and there are also branches in the way of looking at the entire scene. In having the viewers’ field of vision compromised, it marks a difficulty when watching the film–not allowing for easy digestion–which breaks the fourth wall because it requires the viewer to think and realize they are intruding and are not actually a part of the story. Therefore explicitly requiring the audience to become self-aware of their audience-ship.

I have been wondering about the reasons Dash decided to make the audience feel obtrusive. One of my ideas was that Dash wanted to make a statement on definitive aspects of movies. Specifically pertaining to obtrusiveness: in films the audience are asked to be passive viewers of film and are not required to be self-aware or critical thinkers. Dash, it seems, wants viewers to reevaluate their position as a viewer (or even a person) and have self-reflection.

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Daughters of the Dust: spirituality throughout the film

Daughters of the Dust… W O W. I was shocked by the beauty of the film and the way in which the story was portrayed.

Upon some personal research, I came across a website that paralleled the film to biblical themes. I thought this idea was particularly interesting, especially with the verses it presented. I share one below:

“Shake yourself from the dust and arise; be seated, O Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion” – Isaiah 52:2.

I think the idea of emerging life in the verse above particularly mirrors that portrayed in the film. Not only were the Gullah people former slaves, but they were walking into freedom and embarking into a new life. The movie begins and ends with dust; blown softly into the camera by a wind as the narration begins and ends.

This made me think of the words “from dust you have come and to dust you will return,” another prominent scriptural reference. I wondered a lot about how this was carried further into the film. There were multiple instances in which the family was gathered around and Viola would be shouting Christian teachings or remarking to Yellow mary how she was “sinful.”

I was confused with how the religious themes intertwined with the film; there seemed to be multiple contradictions of spirituality. Yet even so, I noticed an acceptance and respect of all the different religious and cultural traditions regardless of their oppositions. There was Nana with her sacred objects and strands of cut hair and then Viola harshly refusing to press her lips to them and “carry Nana’s spirit with her…”

I thought this all had much to say about the Gullah people, particularly with their respect and acknowledgement of each other’s spirituality.

I’m curious to hear y’all’s thoughts on this and how it affected you, if at all, through the watching of the film.

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Fashioning the Body as Politic

Wow what a film! I didn’t think the movie was strange at all. It was so artsy and the acting and cinematography was great. I was entertained the whole time. Although, I never would have appreciated it as much without reading the article we were assigned. [Disclaimer: the past two nights I’ve had three hours of sleep, no nap zone, so bear with me if my thoughts, punctuation, word choice, etc. are all over the place or just flat out wrong.]

Angeletta Gourdine offers wonderful insight to the many themes brought up in Daughters of the Dust. She uses the term “body politic” which is a recurring theme we’ve seen throughout the semester. In The Color Purple Morrison brings attention to the dynamic between Shug and Celie and their bodies. While Celie is seen as plain or drab (wearing a dress that, “doesn’t do anything for you anyway,” (mirroring her personal struggles and the oppression in her story), Shug’s image expresses the opposite, depicting her performer lifestyle of a confident, beautiful woman. Shug’s image doesn’t necessarily mean she’s prettier than Celie, Shug may just have this mask on perhaps to mask her misery or even just satisfy the body politic that her audience would expect. In Silver Sparrow we discussed the whole “silver” concept and what it meant to be beautiful to Chaurisse. She anxiously awaits the moment in which her mother deems her old enough to change her hair. To Chaurisse this means everything. It gives her a sense of hope that she could one day pass for silver in someone’s eyes. In the clip we watched of the women in the hair salon, women of all social strata were paying big bucks to chemically alter their hair to achieve the “natural” look. Well, obviously that looks isn’t natural for black women and you wonder if they genuinely like the style, or if it has any connection to body politic and how society views the concept of beauty. Gourdine calls this body politic a “social skin.” She uses a quote by Foucault that says, “because the self is not given to us..there is only one practical consequence: we have to create ourselves as a work of art.” The whole film was a work of art and it used symbols of clothing and the inherent body politic to paint a political picture for us. Gourdine goes on to address the fact that, “blackwomen have always had two bodies- their natural corporeal one and their political one.” The character Yellow Mary is a perfect example of this. While her natural, human, blackwoman features, characteristics, mannerisms, opinions, values, and so on make up one body, another body embodies a collective history of rape, conquest, enslavement that blackwomen have undergone in the past and further still, a “hard woman” in the present.

This is just one idea that Gourdine presented that stuck out for me. Bye folks, hope this made drinks can only do so much.